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Blogs Fixed Odds Betting Terminals in the UK – What will the Government do?

Do you think the UK Government should limit the maximum stake on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals?

  • No way, Jose!

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters

Dave Hanson

New Member
Fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) have become a feature of every betting shop in the UK over recent years – and for good reason: they are essentially money-printing machines for the bookmakers.

Many articles have been written about the ills of FOBTs, their seductive nature to people who might well have an addition to gambling or who can’t afford to lose £100 every 20 seconds, as is clearly possible on these games. As quoted in a recent article in the Guardian by Victoria Coren Mitchell (who, incidentally, knows a thing or two about gambling having mixed it with the big boys in numerous high stakes poker tournaments), players lost £1,000 or more on an astounding 233,071 occasions in the year ending September 2016, with players losing upwards of £5,000 on 650 occasions. Damn, that’s a tad scary.

This all makes me feel somewhat uneasy given that I write for and promote online gambling in general, including online casinos through our CasinoOffers.co site. The online casinos we choose to promote have – or at least say they have! – safeguards in place to identify and limit players who might have a gambling problem. I would think that the data collected by a well-run online casino would put it in a much better position to do this than the staff in a busy betting shop, who might well not notice if a punter wanders in off the street, spanks two grand on a FOBT in a few minutes and then wanders out again, worrying about what he’s going to tell the wife about their holiday fund. But perhaps I am being very naïve.

There have been numerous calls for the UK government to introduce legislation to curb the number, maximum stakes and speed of games of FOBTs ever since they were made legal by the Blair government back in 2001. Back then, the powers that be thought that limiting the number of FOBTs to four per shop would stop them becoming a problem. But what did the bookies do? They opened more betting shops, each one essentially a vessel for four more money-printing machines.

The current legislation under which FOBTs are managed is the Gambling Act 2005, which classifies such terminals as B2 gaming machines, and thus they are permitted to have a maximum stake of £100 per spin/game and a maximum prize of just £500. Incidentally, a small casino is permitted to have a maximum of 80 FOBTs, with 150 being the maximum in a large casino, according to the Gambling Commission.

Interestingly, perhaps crucially, there is no current requirement to adhere to a specific Return to Player (RTP) percentage, only that the ‘minimum average return must be displayed to the player for the game’ and that this percentage must be verified by either the manufacturer or an accredited test lab. Forgive me for doubting your average FOBT punter regarding their knowledge about such things, but I would suggest that someone about to play on one of these terminals would possibly not notice and probably not understand that the odds are essentially stacked against them when the machine briefly flashed up that the RTP percentage was less than 90 per cent.

There were rumours – due to the standard ‘Whitehall leak’ – that arose this month that Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond had suggested that there should be no change to the current legislation of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals on the basis that the country simply couldn’t afford a reduction in the tax revenues they receive from them. This has caused a fair bit of consternation among many campaigners who suggest anything other than a maximum stake of £2 is tantamount to moral bankruptcy and that the current situation essentially sucks money from the people who are often least able to afford to lose it. This rumour has since been dismissed as ‘fake news’ by the Treasury, but there is every chance the leak was simply testing the mood of the public ahead of a more concrete announcement in the next budget.

A recent UK Parliamentary Briefing Paper on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, quotes the ‘gambling industry’ as saying that a reduction in the maximum stake of FOBTs to £2 would result in betting shops and hence jobs being put at risk. This is an inevitable stance from an industry that makes so much money from FOBTs and which has long had a strong lobbying presence in Westminster.

Of course, while the government would undoubtedly lose revenues if they curbed FOBTs in any way, they should balance the costs that FOBTs have too. According to recent research on the subject by Craig Thorley et al, the excess fiscal cost to health services in England, Scotland and Wales combined, incurred by people classed as problem gamblers, is between £350 million and £610 million per annum. Throw in a further cost of up to £160 million for excess benefits claimed, up to £60 million for additional homelessness costs, over £100 million for additional criminal justice costs, and up to £150 million for mental health services for problem gamblers, and suddenly the £400 million the government makes in tax from FOBTs doesn’t look all that impressive.

So the ball is firmly in the government’s court on this one. It remains to be seen whether they will propose legislation that reduces the availability, maximum stake or profitability of fixed odds betting terminals, but there is going to be a hell of controversy if they don’t.